A lot can change in eight years. And when you’re a band like Friendly Fires, which has a track record of adapting its sound to reflect the sentiment of the times, it pays to keep on top of these changes. However, it seems that the long time spent waiting for a follow up to the 2011’s Pala has thrown Friendly Fires into a state of confusion.
Their latest offering, Inflorescent, splits itself between saccharine-sweet love letters to the 80s and darker electronic outings that fall just short of ambition. Although each track holds a piece of Friendly Fires charm, each one also feels like the band is playing it safe so as to not cause commotion with their comeback. Opening number ‘Can’t Wait Forever’ plays out like a song that has already won you over, but without any hook or moment that really feels triumphant. Sure, it’s a neat singalong moment when positioned in the middle of a playlist of back-catalogue songs, but as an opener it does little to earn its sense of celebration.
This is something that plagues most of the album. There is a sense of innate celebration, which stands at odds with the overwhelmingly uncertain social and political atmosphere of recent years. As a band built on embodying the zeitgeist, this feels like an odd tone to hold. And while it could be rewarding to have a sense of celebration to elevate the collective mood, the striking 80s-dance vibe and almost-forced elements of seduction make it almost too cheesy to bear.
Unfortunately, the album packs more than enough earworms into its runtime that will keep you going back to them with a sense of bittersweet enjoyment. None of it is bad; it’s just not up to the standards that Friendly Fires have already set themselves.
The second half of the album all but abandons the 80s cheesiness for darker tones. ‘Love Like Waves’ sits in the midground as the moment of transition between the 80s nostalgia and the more reserved electronic sounds, presenting itself as one of the album’s crowning achievements. It’s still heavily 80s, but it stands out as an infectious electropop song, albeit one that can at times feel a bit by-the-numbers.
It’s the rest of this second half, from the brooding ‘Lack of Love’ cover to the sprawling ‘Run the Wild Flowers’, that begins to restore faith in the band’s second coming. Sounding much more in line with a natural progression of what we expect from the band, it’s darker and more engaging than the first half. But it still feels strangely safe, and not quite enough to elevate the album beyond the at times garish 80s aesthetic of the first half.
Of course, this could all be incredibly meta and the band actually planned the album to be divisive by design to reflect the spirit of the times. And in brighter times, we might look back on this album’s optimism as a welcomed release. But in the moment, it’s an unfortunately forgettable series of safe sounds.